Okra Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Okra, annotated

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman  

Okra is the edible pod of the okra plant. You probably know it best for its soluble fiber content, which creates what is sometimes described as a slimy goo. The gooeyness can be minimized by stir-frying at high heat or cooking in a soup or stew such as gumbo, where the fiber disperses and provides a thickening agent. If you cook okra with an acidic food, such as lemon juice, vinegar, or even tomatoes, it helps to cut down on the slime factor.

Okra was originally brought to the Americas during the African slave trade. "Gumbo" is a West African word for okra, which would explain the origins of that classic Louisiana dish. In some places, okra is still called gumbo. Okra is also sometimes referred to as "lady's fingers."

Okra Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1/2 cup (80g) sliced, boiled okra.

  • Calories: 18
  • Fat: 0.2g
  • Sodium: 5mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3.6g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sugars: 1.9g
  • Protein: 1.5g

Carbs

A half-cup of cooked okra has under 4 grams of carbohydrate. Raw okra is similar. About half of the carbohydrate content is fiber and half is naturally occurring sugar. The glycemic index of a food is an indicator of how much and how fast a food raises your blood sugar. As with most non-starchy vegetables, okra is thought to have a low glycemic index.

The glycemic load of a food is related to the glycemic index but takes serving size into account. A glycemic load of 1 is the equivalent of eating 1 gram of glucose. Since there is very little information on the glycemic index of okra, the glycemic load has been estimated at 1.

Fat

There is a very small amount of fat in okra and most of it is healthier unsaturated fat and fatty acids.

Protein

Like most vegetables, okra is not high in protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

Okra is an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, and vitamin B6.

Health Benefits

Okra is high in fiber and provides many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can offer health-promoting properties.

May Lower Blood Sugar

Okra and extracts from okra may help in the management and treatment of diabetes, according to research. Studies show that compounds found in okra may help lower body weight, blood sugar levels, and total cholesterol levels. However, most research in this area is limited to animal studies. More research in humans is necessary.

Provides Filling Fiber

The fiber found in okra (2 grams per half-cup serving) and other fruits and vegetables can have many health benefits, including supporting colon health, aiding blood sugar control, and lowering cardiovascular disease risk.

Contains Antioxidant Compounds

Okra contains antioxidants such as vitamin C, quercetin, and flavonoids. Along with fiber, these likely contribute to the antidiabetic properties of okra. Antioxidants can repair cells damaged by oxidative stress, which helps reduce inflammation and prevent disease. It's best to consume antioxidants through whole foods, rather than supplements, when possible.

Supports Bone and Blood Health

As an excellent source of vitamin K, okra contributes to blood clotting and bone metabolism. One half-cup serving of cooked okra provides 36% of the adequate daily intake (ADI) of vitamin K for women and 27% for men.

Low in FODMAPs

Okra is low in fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols, which means it is suitable for a low-FODMAP diet. This diet is used to manage symptoms of bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Allergies

Although allergy to okra is rare, it has been reported, particularly in parts of Africa where it is consumed frequently. Symptoms of food allergy include itching or swelling around the mouth. If you experience a reaction after consuming okra, talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment.

Adverse Effects

Because okra is high in vitamin K, it can interfere with the blood-thinning medication Coumadin (warfarin). If you take Coumadin, you need to get a consistent amount of vitamin K in your diet. Discuss your consumption of vitamin K-containing foods (often, leafy green vegetables) with your doctor or a registered dietitian.

Okra also contains oxalate, a naturally occurring compound. People with certain conditions, such as kidney disorders, should limit their consumption of oxalates, because they can contribute to the formation of some kidney stones.

Varieties

Okra comes in a few different types, with variations in its color, size, and amount of spines on its pods. It is available fresh, frozen, or pickled. All have similar nutritional profiles, except pickled okra has more sodium than fresh or frozen.

When It's Best

Okra is available year-round, with a peak season during the summer months. For tender, tasty okra, choose pods that are not too large—preferably 2 to 3 inches and no more than 4 inches long—as the large ones are more likely to be over-mature and tough.

Storage and Food Safety

Store fresh okra pods dry, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag. If they are moist, they will mold quickly and then will become slimy. Do not wash fresh pods until you are ready to cook them.

If you are not going to eat your okra within a few days, it is best to freeze it. Blanch it in boiling water for about one minute, then immerse in an ice bath until the okra is cool (but no longer because it will get soggy). Then freeze in freezer bags, removing as much of the air as possible.

How to Prepare

While okra is most famously known as an essential ingredient in gumbo, it can also be roasted, grilled, or sautéed and eaten on its own or with other veggies, such as tomatoes. Cooking it whole (just trim the ends) helps reduce the sliminess. Okra also works well in soups, where it serves as a thickener, as well as curries and stir fries. It can be substituted for green beans, zucchini, or eggplant, or vice versa.

Recipes

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Article Sources
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